Guwahati: A wild elephant was killed and another injured when a speeding freight train from Guwahati to Delhi hit them at Goxaihat Uparpara in Palashbari, on the outskirts of Guwahati in the wee hours of Thursday.

The pachyderms had come out of the hills in search of food.

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“The incident that occurred last night (early Thursday morning) is not the first time. Such incidents have happened before also since this is an elephant corridor,” Inspector Jogenya Barman, Officer In-charge of Palashbari Police Station, Mirza, told EastMojo.

“This tragic incident took place last night at Kamakhya Jogighopa Railway. The dead elephant was traversed by the train, while the injured elephant ran towards the jungle.”

The Forest Department and the Railway Department rushed to the spot and removed the dead elephant from the railway line shortly to resume rail movement.

“The elephant was hit between 2:30 and 3:00 am. One male elephant has died and the other injured one has not been found yet,” Jiten Das, Deputy Forest Ranger, Palashbari, told EastMojo.

He said he was informed by local residents about another elephant having been hit by the train and getting injured. The search for the injured elephant is on.

Local residents have repeatedly been urging the authorities concerned to take measures to stop such accidents from recurring in the area as the stretch is prone to such incidents.

On being asked if such incidents were common in the area, Das said, “About a month and a half ago, a man had also died at the same spot after being hit by a train. That was also in the early hours of the day.”

To shed some light on the issue, EastMojo spoke with a renowned Wildlife Activist from Udalguri, Jayanta Kumar Das, who has been working with communities across Assam to reduce human and animal casualties, addressing issues such as human-elephant conflict and other wildlife conservation measures.

“Train accidents have been occurring regularly in that area. The biggest problem is that this is a very old elephant corridor and it was a big blunder to lay down the Guwahati to Goalpara track there. It defied many government norms and so many wild elephants have been killed in the area regularly,” said Das.

“Deepor Beel is a Ramsar site and is a very significant spot of wildlife conservation in the world, and construction of the railway line through this was a huge blunder. The department could have still minimised casualties through speed control. The drivers of locomotives must be trained about how to handle situations where wild animals come in the way,” the wildlife activist added.

To find out if the loco pilots were trained to operate in areas within forests, around elephant corridors and if there was an overall awareness among them to prevent such incidents from occurring frequently, EastMojo spoke with an NFR official who, on conditions of anonymity, said there were other factors that could have led to the incidents since the loco pilots do get trained for the same.

“Various measures are taken and they are regularly trained but it also depends on the situation. Sometimes in spite of trains running at reduced speeds, elephants happen to come in front of the train and in such situations, the driver may not be able to apply an emergency brake because the train may get derailed. The load of the train and minimum braking distance also has to be taken into consideration in such cases,” the official told Eastmojo.

When asked about the previous incident where a man died at the same spot, the official said people have been asked to refrain from using railway tracks despite which people are not careful and that results in such accidents. The official further added that the responsibility of informing the railways about the location of wild animals lies with the Forest Department.

On being asked if the forest department had shared with the railways information about the whereabouts of the elephants last night and if such information was regularly passed on to the railways, Gulab Kumar Boniya, Assistant Conservator of Forest, Palashbari, could not give a satisfactory answer although the response was in the affirmative.

“I have met a couple of other officials and we are planning to patrol around vulnerable areas to support the railways during night hours. Our DFO will also contact higher authorities soon regarding the same,” the official informed EastMojo.

NGT’s ‘no’ to laying tracks in Elephant corridor

On October 9, 2018, the principal bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), New Delhi, in a judgment had asked the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) authority to stop laying of a second railway track in Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary area in Guwahati. The plea was submitted by Rohit Chowdhury, seeking the tribunal’s intervention to stop the laying of a railway track in the Ramsar site.

The bench comprising Justice SP Wangdi, Judicial Member, Dr. Nagin Nanda, Expert Member, in its order stated, “We are disturbed by the fact that the railway authorities (NFR) is continuing with laying of the second railway track which we had prohibited to be undertaken based upon the submissions made on behalf of the railways that no work had been taken up in the area in question. A report of compliance was also called for from the railway authorities but the report has not been filed as on today.”

NGT asks Railways to slow trains near Deepor Beel

On March 6, 2019, the National Green Tribunal had asked the Railway authorities in Assam to take measures such as reducing the speed of trains while crossing through the elephant corridor in Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary.

A bench of Justice Wangdi, Justice K Ramakrishnan and expert member Satyawan Singh Garbyal had referred to the Supreme Court Judgement in Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action vs. Union of India and Ors, quoting, “Economic consideration no doubt is important for development but it should not be at the cost of ecology, biodiversity and the environment.” The bench was hearing a plea moved by environment activist Rohit Choudhury on the same issue.

Also read: Documentary: The man-elephant conflict in the corridors of Assam

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